Three-game losing streak snapped with overtime win

Written By Derek Malush

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While most of us were celebrating with family and friends this holiday break, the Point Park men’s basketball team was taking care of its tenacious workload.

Point Park dropped its final contest of 2016 at No. 25 Northwestern Ohio, 111-94, and took a short break to prepare for 2017.

As the fall semester came to an end, so did the final grades. The Pioneers will be without two of their top leading scorers due to academic concerns.

Senior guard Sa’iid Allen, who averaged 16.5 points-per game, and senior forward Kenny Strong, who contributed 13.3 points-per-game, are both on academic suspension. Allen could make a return before the end of the season. Strong, however, will not return this season.

Point Park opened 2017 with a 112-83 River States Conference (RSC) loss at Cincinnati Christian. Senior forward Jaylen Mann, who has started all but one game this year, picked up two technical fouls and was suspended for one game under NAIA regulations. Mann averaged 9.2 points-per-game and 4.3 rebounds-per-game.

The Pioneers returned home on Jan. 6 to take on Midway (Ky.) in an RSC contest to try and snap their two game losing streak without Allen, Strong and Mann.

The Pioneers allowed Midway to shoot 52 percent from the field in the first half. But sophomore guard Asim Pleas took the reins, pouring in 13 of his 17 points through the first 20 minutes to help Point Park to a 35-34 halftime lead.

Fousseini Konate’s efforts to keep the Pioneers in the back-and-forth game during the second half came up short. The junior forward scored 10 of his team-high 18 points in the second half and played every second from tip-off to the final buzzer in the 82-80 loss.

Point Park struggled from behind the arc, shooting only 27 percent from long range, and shot 41 percent from the field.

OT Thriller

The Pioneers tried to get back in the driver’s seat the following afternoon.

Point Park hosted Indiana University Kokomo in a RSC game hours after the loss to Midway, still without Allen and Strong. Mann returned to the Pioneers and came off the bench for 19 minutes of court time. He scored two points but missed all three shots from the field.

“It’s just the next man up,” Interim Head Coach Gabe Bubon said. “It sucks without [Allen and Strong], but we need to play with the same intensity.”

With Point Park trailing by one point with three seconds left in the first half, senior forward Lassana Konate stole an inbound pass and sank a parking lot three-pointer to beat the buzzer and give the Pioneers a 35-33 lead.

Point Park was just two-for-13 from long range in the first half, but held the Cougars to just under 40 percent from the field in the first half. Point Park defense forced 14 turnovers by the end of the game.

Junior forward Fousseini Konate, younger brother of Lassana Konate, said that he wanted this win more than anything.

“After last night’s loss I couldn’t sleep,” Lassana Konate said. “I was up until 4 a.m., and we had practice at 9 a.m. My head was just everywhere.”

In the second half, the Pioneers were only hurting themselves as they went 10-19 at the charity stripe.

“It’s amazing that we can shoot three-pointers better than foul shots,” Bubon said. “The real story of the game was Art Christian.”

Christian attempted a dunk on a breakaway layup, but didn’t reach the rim and missed. On the same possession, he banked in a three-pointer.

“Are you mad at him? I don’t know,” Bubon said. “I want to be. But I don’t know if I can be.”

Although the Pioneers struggled at the free throw line during the final minutes of play, the team managed to make up for the missed points elsewhere, shooting 5-10 from the three-point line.

With only three seconds left in regulation, junior guard T.J. Bates fiercely defended the potential game-winning three point shot, forcing IU Kokomo’s Devon Burton to miss the shot, sending the game into overtime.

With less than three minutes to play in overtime, it was Bates’ defense on display again.

The junior guard stripped the ball away from an IU Kokomo guard at mid-court to set the tone for Point Park’s level of play for the remainder of the game.

Opposing what had occurred in regulation, the Pioneers made 8-11 free throws in overtime. Christian scored 10 of his 14 points in overtime, including two three-point attempts to solidify the Pioneers’ victory.

Point Park snapped its three game losing streak with an 84-73 conference win and now hold an overall record of 6-9 with a 4-2 record in RSC play.

The Pioneers travel to No. 10 Indiana University East on Jan. 13 for their fourth conference game in a row. Then, they travel to Ohio Christian the next afternoon for another RSC matchup.

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